Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Richard Maurice Bucke, 12 May 1890

Date: May 12, 1890

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00478

Source: The Walt Whitman Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin. The transcription presented here is derived from The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 5:46–47. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock




Mickle Street Camden1
May 12 '90

No very mark'd change in the situation. Warry2 (my young man) has just been in to urge me to get out in wheel chair,3 wh' I shall—the sun is out, & the temperature mildens.

I send off a little piece to Century this evn'g.4 Have also written a little five line bit in compliment to Queen Victoria's birth day (May 24) wh' I shall send out5—Alys Smith6 was here yesterday—it is quite possible Mary7 & her husband8 & children9 may come to America forthwith on a flying trip—Herbert Gilchrist10 has gone to Centreport (L I near Huntington) for a long stay—Shall look for you Thursday—or Friday at furthest11


Walt Whitman


Correspondent:
Richard Maurice Bucke (1837–1902) was a Canadian physician and psychiatrist who grew close to Whitman after reading Leaves of Grass in 1867 (and later memorizing it) and meeting the poet in Camden a decade later. Even before meeting Whitman, Bucke claimed in 1872 that a reading of Leaves of Grass led him to experience "cosmic consciousness" and an overwhelming sense of epiphany. Bucke became the poet's first biographer with Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and he later served as one of his medical advisors and literary executors. For more on the relationship of Bucke and Whitman, see Howard Nelson, "Bucke, Richard Maurice," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).

Notes:

1. This letter is addressed: Dr Bucke | of Canada | Care Mr Moeller | the Aldine | Cape May | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Camden, N.J. | May 12 | 8 PM | 90. [back]

2. Frank Warren Fritzinger (1867–1899), known as "Warry," took Edward Wilkins's place as Whitman's nurse, beginning in October 1889. Fritzinger and his brother Harry were the sons of Henry Whireman Fritzinger (about 1828–1881), a former sea captain who went blind, and Almira E. Fritzinger. Following Henry Sr.'s death, Warren and his brother—having lost both parents—became wards of Mary O. Davis, Whitman's housekeeper, who had also taken care of the sea captain and who inherited part of his estate. [back]

3. Horace Traubel and Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse, went to Philadelphia to purchase a wheeled chair for the poet that would allow him to be "pull'd or push'd" outdoors. See Whitman's letter to William Sloane Kennedy of May 8, 1889[back]

4. Whitman is referring to "On, On the Same, Ye Jocund Twain!" Century rejected the poem. See R.W. Gilder's May 14 letter to Whitman. The poem was eventually published in Once a Week on June 9, 1891. [back]

5. Whitman is referring to "For Queen Victoria's Birthday," which was published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger on May 24. [back]

6. Alyssa ("Alys") Whitall Pearsall Smith (1867–1951) was born in Philadelphia and became a Quaker relief organizer. She attended Bryn Mawr College and was a graduate of the class of 1890. She and her family lived in Britain for two years during her childhood and again beginning in 1888. She married the philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1894; the couple later separated, and they divorced in 1921. Smith also served as the chair of a society committee that set up the "Mothers and Babies Welcome" (the St Pancras School for Mothers) in London in 1907; this health center, dedicated to reducing the infant mortality rate, provided a range of medical and educational services for women. Smith was the daughter of Robert Pearsall and Hannah Whitall Smith, and she was the sister of Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945), the political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." [back]

7. Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe (1864–1945) was a political activist, art historian, and critic, whom Whitman once called his "staunchest living woman friend." A scholar of Italian Renaissance art and a daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, she would in 1885 marry B. F. C. "Frank" Costelloe. She had been in contact with many of Whitman's English friends and would travel to Britain in 1885 to visit many of them, including Anne Gilchrist shortly before her death. For more, see Christina Davey, "Costelloe, Mary Whitall Smith (1864–1945)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. Benjamin Francis Conn ("Frank") Costelloe (1854–1899), Mary Costelloe's first husband, was an English barrister and Liberal Party politician. [back]

9. Rachel Pearsall Conn Costelloe (1887–1940), known as Ray Strachey, was the first daughter of Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe. She would later become a feminist writer and politician. [back]

10. Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist (1857–1914), son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, was an English painter and editor of Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). For more information, see Marion Walker Alcaro, "Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

11. Dr. Bucke had decided to get some "fresh sea air" and so spent some time on the southern New Jersey shore at the Aldine Cottage on Cape May (see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, April 9, 1890), after which he came to Philadelphia and Camden and stayed to attend the poet's seventy-first birthday dinner. [back]


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